In the early evening of June 11, 1939, a meteoroid dropped from the sky, upsetting a whole bunch of people in rural Ontario, Canada, and netting its very own entry in the history books. Following a strict nomenclature, it was named after the nearby town Dresden and so when you look up the German city online, Wikipedia kindly suggests that what you might really be looking for could be this cold rock from space.
I was born and raised in Western Germany, never once venturing much into the East. I am also too young to remember the wall coming down; in fact one of my first memories is seeing Saddam Hussein on television during the first Gulf War and being convinced that he had something to do with that Second World War my grandparents kept talking about. For the longest time, I never ever made it anywhere East from my home and native land. So it isn’t too far fetched to say that for the most part, Eastern Germany felt about as remote to me as meteoroids must have seemed for Canadian farmers.
Picture my surprise when I first went and found a place that was both being renovated and yet too stubbornly rooted in the old to quite walk through the doorframe between old and new. It has resulted in a very strange division: There’s a renovated historic part of the city, where gleaming old buildings seamlessly merge into mind-bogglingly large, soulless shopping centers. Sure, there are traces of it not quite having been squeezed into the city planners’ vision, such as a gaping hole in the city center, but the game plan is abundantly clear. On the other side of the river, though, lies the Neustadt – and with each visit to Dresden I find myself more thrilled by it. I spent the birthday weekend in Dresden with Anika and just walking around confirmed this notion. Some parts feel like they have been molded from one huge batch of concrete that has faded into a dim brown, other parts have rows of beautiful facades extending into shear infinity. At night the street lights are orange and barely illuminate the space between the massive arches of bridges. You feel like you are transported into a different age. In that, there’s an obvious parallel to Den Haag, and maybe that is part of why I like it so much. But really, it comes down to feeling so authentic and downright liveable that it is a joy to see.
There’s a graffiti stencil someone uses in Berlin, suggesting to the reader to keep calm: “Have no fear, it is only gentrification”. That term is being tossed around so much here that a graffiti parody was in high order. Don’t get me wrong, nobody wants to live in an old, decayed house without heating. And some of the old Socialist architecture isn’t exactly easy on the eyes. But in the grand scheme of things, they create originality, make everything rough around the edges and lend the place so much more character than the ever-repeated visuals of modern city-planning; with the same retain chains over and over again. Does that make me seem afraid of gentrification?
I am not sure how long it is going to last. Here’s hoping they won’t sand down the edges too much.